Abolishment of Hard Times Part Three

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My grandfather, Daniel Wakelee, built a new homestead for this family between 1832 and 1836 in Long Hill, Trumbull, CT.  This homestead was on what was called the New Turnpike, and is now the main road running from Bridgeport to Stephney, CT.  This new homestead is about five miles from Bridgeport and very near to the old “Long Hill” burying ground.[ii]  The house is just on the Stephney side of the lane that runs off the turnpike and goes to the graveyard.  To this home my grandparents moved, but a great sickness over took his family.  It was at this home that my grandmother would be the first to die of Typhoid Fever.[iii]  My grandfather kept a journal starting from 1791, and the last entry he made was 11 Sept 1837 the day after my grandmother died.  A few weeks later my grandfather would also succumb to Typhoid.[iv]  My grandparent’s third son, Daniel Baldwin Wakelee, who was born on 15 Nov 1814, died next of Typhoid on 18 Jan 1838.[v]  The oldest daughter, Mary Ann Wakelee, also had this Typhoid Fever, and was so seriously affected that she hardly regained her full reason through a period of something like ten years.[vi]  The loss of so many members of the family made the strain on her much harder.  My grandfather was a surveyor and his minutes and plats covered about a generation of time and have been preserved and are in my possession.[vii]  The land he surveyed was in and about Trumbull, Fairfield County, CT.

Hard Times

 It was with great difficulty that men could get work no matter how skilled in their trades.  The times were hard in the North before the Civil War, and there existed what was known as the “1857 Hard Times.”  During this period of hard times my father was without work, so he would cut wood for the farmers living out and about Bridgeport.  He was an expert with the axe, having acquired this ability to wield an axe when he was a boy working under the control of his father.  For two or three generations, the Wakelees had been hewers of timber, which they sold, when prepared at the saw mill, to the ship builders to be used in the construction of vessels.

It was during these hard times that my father solicited of a passing farmer the job of cutting wood and was told to go to work and cut the cord wood at a place about two and one half miles from Bridgeport.  My father was so glad for the chance of work that he did not bother about the price to be paid.  I went to see my father at work and I remember there was snow on the ground.  However, my father cut considerable wood and piled it properly to be measured for the cord.  One day my father was home when the farmer was going by and my father ran out to talk settlement.  There was a long talk on the highway, old Main Street, before my father came back to the house.  He was in a great heat of anger, using oaths in doing so.  The farmer wanted my father to take a portion of the wood, and a little money as payment.  My father, when aroused to anger, a violent swearer and I remember that on this occasion he did more than swear.  He cursed the Country and demanded God to bring blood and revolution upon this country.  It is more than likely that the Almighty paid little attention to this prayer, though blood and revolution came soon enough.  I could not understand why the conditions were such as to take men so dissatisfied and to make it so difficult for men to live.

The times were hard before the Civil War and these times made a great impression on me.  I believed in the abolishment of these hard times.  Much was then being said, and since then written and spoken on the abolishment of slavery, but my thoughts was on the abolishment of hard times.  These memories led me later to be a strong advocate of pure bimetallism, or the use of the purchasing power of both gold and silver in furnishing the standard of prices in the monetary institution of our Country.

 Civil War

 Prior to the Civil War I carried and sold newspapers in the City of Bridgeport, CT.  I carried a route of the Bridgeport Evening Farmer[viii] and The Standard.  For a long time, in the early morning, I took and sold the New Haven Journal.  The New York papers reached Bridgeport at the time of about half past nine and I carried and distributed those papers in Bridgeport.  The Book Store, from which most of this was done, was owned by E. Lewis, 21 Wall Street, but sometime near the close of the War, he moved around the corner on Maine Street.  In this Book Store, was a gentleman by the name of Mr. Fisher who supervised the newspaper business until his death sometime before the War.

The headquarters for the New York papers and the New Haven Journal was from Mr. Lewis store, but the distribution of the Bridgeport papers was from the office of the papers themselves.  The Bridgeport Evening Farmer was then on the corner of Wall and Water Streets.  I was selling the New Haven Journal at the time of the firing on Fort Sumter.  I heard about it in the evening that Fort Sumter had been fired upon and telegraphed to New Haven for a larger supply of papers.  In the morning I walked over to Stratford and met the train, which then arrived in Bridgeport at 6-10 o’clock am, therefore giving me a chance to fold my papers.  When the train reached Bridgeport, I found a large crowd and they fairly took the papers away from me, so eager were they to get hold of the paper and read the latest news.  This was the 12th or 13th of April 1861.[ix]

The times had been very exciting previous to the firing on FortSumter, and just after that came the call from the government of the United States for 75,000 volunteers for three months service.  The first Regiment to go through was from Massachusetts and that Regiment reached Baltimore on the 19th of April 1861.  The train was fired upon and a fight took place in the streets of Baltimore.  The people waited for this Massachusetts Regiment in the thousands and the engine was so arranged as to play some note of a tune.  The crowd waited most of the night, and finally, when the troops came a gun was fired, and it went off prematurely, killing one man, I believe, and wounding another.

Enlistments went rapidly and troops went forward as fast as they could be organized under this call for 75,000 men.  Soon after the first Bull Run Battle was fought, [x] the time of enlistment of the three months men were expiring.  The government had discovered that the call was insignificant as to the numbers and trifling as to the time soldiers would be needed to serve, so they called for 300,000 men for three years, if not sooner discharged.  Towards the latter part of July and the month of August 1861, the three months men began to return home.  Most wished to go back and re-enlist under the new call.  The defeat at Bull Run intensified matters in the North and drew a stronger line between those who advocated the war and those who opposed to it than had been drawn previously.

Political contentions in Connecticut had been very close.  The state was generally considered a Democratic one.  The election for Governor had been very close and the Republicans carried the State by less than a thousand majority.[xi]  Abraham Lincoln spoke two or three times in Connecticut in the Campaign of 1860.[xii]  He spoke once strictly on the political issues and on another occasion he gave a reproduction of his famous New York lecture delivered some months previously,[xiii] and on both of these occasions I was there to hear him.  Something had been said in regard to it, but no one considered him a probable candidate for the office of President, at the time he was in Connecticut.

The Stephney, CT ‘Peace Flag’

The vote for the Presidential election of 1860 in Fairfield County, CT, was quite large for Breckenridge, the original Democratic nominee.[xiv]  This was the ticket supported by the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, a newspaper generally called the Farmer, a daily and weekly newspaper.  This paper was edited and perhaps owned at this time by a firm know as Pumoroy & Morse.[xv]  Pumoroy was an old man and lived in Bridgeport in a fine house somewhere there on Golden Hill.  This paper, under the management of Mr. Morse, was actively opposed to the war and was as near in sympathy with the Secession Movement as it possibly could be without open proclamation to that effect.

I was in the printing office of the Farmer to learn the printing trade and was known in that office as the Devil.  I remember carrying the editorial up to Mr. Pumoroy’s house and waiting for him to glance over and pass upon or make such modifications as he choose, and then I would return it to Mr. Morse.  This paper particularly exasperated the returned three-month men.  There had been treats to mob this paper and to do harm to Mr. Morse.  There had been some preparations to meet such a force and a few men stayed in the Farmer office overnight.  They had two or three barrels of clubs, like policemen’s clubs, ready to use in case of an emergency.

This leads me up to a celebrated part of the history of Bridgeport, which is the mobbing and destruction of this printing office.[xvi]  P. T. Barnum, who was for years charged with being one of the chief instigators of this act, took a great part in it to my personal knowledge.  He had, associated with him in this act, Mr. Elijah Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine.  Mr. Howe had brought the old Barnum place and built a house there.  He was a well-known citizen at the time of Bridgeport.  On a certain, I cannot remember the exact date,[xvii] I went out on some business and saw several carry-alls, busses and large carriages gathered in front of what was then known as the Sterling House situated on Maine Street facing Wall Street.  I inquired as to what all this meant, and I was told that a party was going up to Stephney to take down the Peace Flag.

The Peace Flag needs an explanation.  The opposition to the Civil War in the North, at least in New England, in the late summer and fall of 1861, took the form of great peace meetings.  I believe a man named Reynolds, editor of the New York Times, had suggested this form of protest against the war fever of the North.  There would be a great demonstration, with speeches, singing and feasting, and in place of the Liberty Flag, there would be raised on a pole a great white flag as a sign that the meeting advocated peace.  There was one of these meetings, advertised far and wide, being held at Stephney.

Mr. P. T. Barnum and Elijah Howe and others were mounted on horseback and men were beginning to fill up these conveyances.  There were not many large conveyances in Bridgeport, so these were very likely, from Mr. Barnum’s show.  They were filling up with men and most of them were the returned three-month volunteers and they stored a good many arms as they entered.  I managed to get into one of wagons and stored myself so as not to be driven out by the older men and went on that celebrated ride to Stephney.

The ride to Stephney was made in quick order.  When we went driving up to the pole on the Stephney Green, the large assembly was hearing a prayer, their heads bowed, and the meeting was being opened with that prayer.  We were two or three hundred feet or so from where they raised the Peace Flag.  As more carriages drove up full of men, the new arrivals took positions around the pole.  Someone had to climb up some distance to get hold of the rope so as to let down the flag, as it was not designed for the flag to be removed until it wore out.

When the people began to realize that an enemy had come to take down the flag.  The most determined men came up to oppose and several of them went to their homes for their guns.  The new comers sought to disarm them as soon as they appeared and this caused several struggles in the broad road.  Back in the field some firing took place and finally the Sheriff came in and sought to arrest such as he could get hold of, those that were found armed and firing.  The new comers took them away from the Sheriff, and he called on the assistance from the people and he got some, but not sufficient to enable him to bring things to a peaceable condition.  There were plenty of arms and the blood of the men was up and they were ready for a sort of general engagement.

The flag was taken down, however, and torn up into treads and tied to the wagons.  After an hour passed, the procession started back again to Bridgeport.  It was constantly augmented by arrivals of teams and men on horses, and when we reached Bridgeport, about eleven miles from Stephney, some in the large procession was entirely intoxicated.  All were excited over the victory at Stephney and were ready for something worse on reaching Bridgeport if there were leaders.

P.T. Barnum Admits Being at Stephney, CT

Let’s interrupt Ebenezer’s re-telling of the Stephney “Peace Flag” incident by adding a confirmation of the event by P. T. Barnum himself.  According to “Struggles and Triumphs”, also called, “The Life of P. T. Barnum” written by P. T. Barnum and combined into a single volume in 1927 by George S. Bryan, Barnum wrote, “I began my political life as a Democrat, and often declared that if I thought there was a drop of blood in me that was not Democratic, I would let it out if I had to cut the jugular vein.  When, however, secession threatened in 1860, I decided to identify myself with the Republican Party.


 

[i]   Excerpts from Memorandum of Comrade E. Wakeley’s Family History: Since They Were Known in America by Ebenezer Wakeley, Jr., un-published 41 page pamphlet written in Chicago, IL before 1902.  He mentions in his history that his father was “still living” at the time of its writing.  His father died in 1902.

[ii]   According to the will of Daniel Wakelee a saw mill was located on the southern part of the estate.  A photo of this home is in the editor’s collection.  It was sent to Ebenezer “Eben” Stone Wakeley on 11 Dec 1918.  The photograph was taken by a cousin, Charles Wilcoxson of Stratford, CT, the son of Mabel Wakelee (born 7 Jan 1813), and Lucius Wilcoxson of Stratford, CT.

[iii]   Mary (Baldwin) Wakelee, born 5 June 1781 and died 10 Sept 1837, is buried at the LongHillCemetery next to her husband Daniel, and his parents, David and Mary (Burton) Wakelee.  Mary’s parents are unknown at this time.

[iv]   Daniel Wakelee, born at Stratford, CT 12 Nov 1772, the son of David Wakelee (born 4 Oct 1739 and died 18 May 1822) and Mary (Burton) Wakelee (born 21 Oct 1746 and died 12 May 1803).  Mary Burton’s parents were Captain Joseph and Rebecca (Booth) Burton and they are also buried at Long Hill Cemetery.  Daniel died 26 Oct 1837, and is buried next to his wife Mary at LongHillCemetery.  A copy of the last will and testament, and the estate distribution listing is in the possession of editor.

[v]  Daniel Baldwin Wakelee is also buried at LongHillCemetery.

[vi]   Mary Ann Wakelee, born 20 Feb 1805 and died 17 Nov 1870, is also buried at LongHillCemetery.  She never fully recovered from the death of her parents and brother, and would never marry.  She lived out her days at her brother George Wakelee’s (also buried at Long Hill Cemetery) home.

[vii]   According to the will of Daniel Wakelee he left these survey records to his son Daniel Baldwin Wakelee (who would die himself of Typhoid).  The surveys were maintained in five books and contained the surveys of over 1000 different tracks, and the records of many inventories and distributions.  Unfortunately, these valuable survey records, and the family journal mentioned above, have been lost to our family.

[viii]  Before its destruction in 1861 this newspaper was known as the Daily Advertiser and Farmer (1856-1861), published by Pomeroy & Morse, and it reopened in 1864 as The Evening Farmer (1864-1866), but it was also called the Daily Republican Farmer, and/or Bridgeport Daily Farmer, published by William S. Pomeroy.  In 1866 the paper became known as The Bridgeport Evening Farmer (1866-1917), published by Pomeroy, Gould, & Co. [See http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov ]

[ix]   According to Civil War Regiments from Connecticut, published in 1908 by Federal Publishing Company, the news that FortSumter had been fired upon reached Connecticut on Sunday morning, April 14, 1861.  The firing on Fort Sumter commenced on April 12 and the Fort surrendered on April 13, 1861.

[x]   The 1st Battle of Bull Run was fought July 21, 1861.

[xi]   Republican Governor William Alfred Buckingham won re-election in 1860 by just 541 votes against Democrat Thomas H. Seymour.

[xii]   Abraham Lincoln spoke in Hartford, CT, 5 Mar 1860, New Haven, CT, 6 Mar 1860 and Bridgeport, CT, 10 Mar 1860.  The Bridgeport speech was given at McLevy Hall, near the corner of State and Broad Streets, in an auditorium called Washington Hall.  The speech was not recorded, but it was said to be based on his 27 Feb 1860 speech in New York City.

[xiii]   Abraham Lincoln spoke in New York City at the Cooper Union on 27 Feb 1860 before a crowd of 1,500.

[xiv]   In the Fairfield County, CT, 1860 Presidential race Lincoln received 54% of the vote, Breckenridge 17%, and Stevens 10%.  According to an article by Jon Grinspan, in the Journal of American History, Volume 96 (Sept 2009), pages 357-78, of all the Northern states, Connecticut would give Breckenridge his highest vote percentage.  In Bridgeport, CTLincoln received 1110 votes to Breckenridge’s 462, and Steven’s 475.

[xv]   According to an article by Christine Scriabine called Communications and the Media in Connecticut found at www.ctheritage.org, the Bridgeport Evening Farmer was edited by William S. Pomeroy and Nathan S. Morse.  After the destruction of the paper Morse was driven from the state, but Pomeroy would resume publication in 1864, but avoided all provocative editorials (also see footnote xiii).

[xvi]   The Bridgeport Farmer was “silenced when it was attacked and sacked by an indignant body of citizens and soldiers on August 24, 1861.”

[xvii]  As noted in footnote 10, the date was August 24, 1861.

 

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About Author

Mary K. Witkowski is the former Bridgeport City Historian and the Department Head of the Bridgeport History Center, Emeritus. She is the author of Bridgeport at Work, and the co-author with Bruce Williams of Bridgeport on the Sound. Mary has had a newspaper column in the Bridgeport News, a blog for the Connecticut Post, and a weekly spot on WICC. She continues to be involved in many community based activities and initiatives on local history and historic preservation.

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